I am a pretty optimistic person.
I like to feel good.
I like other people to feel good.
I don't like when other people are suffering.
It physically pains me to see others suffer.
I'm sure many of you can relate to that in some way.
I bet you don't like it when other people are suffering either.
Especially when they are suffering auditory and endlessly... (i.e. complaining.)
I'll admit, listening to people complain about life is HARD. FOR. ME.
(Turns out, I am not a saint. I have my issues. This issue is one I'm working on.)
There's a crucial difference for me between having someone share with me that they're in the midst of a struggle and complaining about something.
When someone is mid-struggle they need empathy.
In fact, when someone is talking to you about a struggle they are knee deep in, there is a WAY to be there for them without creating distance between your heart and their heart.
(I know that's a little woo woo heart talk, but stay with me for a minute)
I live on a floating home and this past January it was so cold, our pipes froze.
Once your pipes freeze there's nothing to be done but wait until the weather warms up enough to melt the ice in the pipes.
My sister was living with me at the time and we managed it like bosses.
We had no water for seven days.
No water - in my house - for seven days.
It was a STRUG-GLE, y'all...
AND - it was also okay!
We were so lucky to have a neighbor without frozen pipes who let us use his house for washing dishes and using the bathroom.
We live within walking distance of a store so we could buy bottled water. (Good thing because the ice was so slick we couldn't drive anywhere.)
We were very fortunate - and I am so grateful to have gotten through that AND SUPER THANKFUL that we have water now.
[Ohmygosh indoor plumbing is AMAZING.
You don't even realize until you're without it for seven days...]
I was talking to a lot of people during that time.
Everyone was DOING THEIR BEST to try and make me feel better.
They really were.
But everyone kept using two words that when employed, make me feel like crap.
Are you ready for them?
-----> At least <-----
Here are some of the AT LEAST things I heard that week:
At least your heat didn't go out...
At least you have a great neighbor...
At least no one was sick...
At least you had your sister to go through it with you.
ALL TOTALLY TRUE.
But it felt awful because it didn't change anything AND no one would admit or connect with my struggle.
I felt alone.
I felt helpless.
I felt like I should be grateful that everything else hadn't gone to complete crap.
I was un-showered and tired and ready to not have to walk outside in the freezing snow to go to the damn bathroom.
S T R U G G L E
It is really hard to stop saying AT LEAST when someone tells you about a struggle they're in because we don't want to identify with that feeling in ourselves.
I say at least.
We all say it.
We're taught to do it by people trying to get us to buck up or deal with it or BE POSITIVE.
What happens when you say at least is you're not acknowledging the vulnerability and the pain of the moment.
You just scoot on right by it.
"My boyfriend left me."
PAIN being expressed: I feel sad and rejected and lost and alone.
SKATE BY: Well, at least you don't have to deal with his crazy moods any more.
"My work schedule has been so crazy that I can't tuck the kids in at night."
PAIN being expressed: I'm overwhelmed and tired and miss seeing my family.
SKATE BY: Well, at least you're making money.
"I got in a car accident and I need $5,000 worth of repairs on my car."
PAIN being expressed: I'm shaken up and frustrated with myself and I don't have five grand to pay to fix my car.
SKATE BY: Well, at least no one was hurt.
See how that plays out?
Can you feel your heart sink when you read each one?
I sure can.
You're trying to make them feel better, but it has the opposite effect.
It creates distance and often feels vaguely like judgement (even if it isn't) or more blatantly like their pain doesn't matter.
And it does.
So what can you say instead?
I'm so glad you told me.
I've been there.
That sounds really hard.
Are you okay?
Is there anything I can do?
I encourage you to try avoid the words at least when someone is in their struggle and opening up to you about it.
Trying being there in it with them and see if it actually helps them more than any silver lining talk could.
I know you can do it.
Do you know someone who could use this blog post? It doesn't seem like a big deal, but it would mean a lot if you would share it. Thank you! ~ Rebecca*